Published DateBy Tom Eastman
CONWAY — “We thought we were going to die,” said Abby Ross, 12, recalling the horror of Monday afternoon's two bomb explosions near the finish line at the Boston Marathon.
Abby, her sister Molly, 10, and her father, Kennett High history teacher Mark Ross, were on the opposite side of Boylston Street, near the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, diagonally across from where the first and second bombs exploded.
They were there to cheer on Abby and Molly's mother, Memorial Hospital ICU nurse and runner Shauna Ross, 41, of North Conway, who was competing in her fourth marathon overall and her second straight Boston Marathon.
Their story about what unfurled Monday afternoon involves a few twists of fate, luck, creative use of cell phones by friends to get messages through to family members, separation and ultimately, family togetherness at the end of their ordeal.
“We were taking the Orange train [on the MBTA], headed for the finish line when we decided to get off on an earlier stop. We ended up on the other side of the street, near the Hynes center, a block away and across from where the bombing took place — otherwise, had we stuck to our original plan, we would have been where the first bomb was,” said Abby in an interview with The Conway Daily Sun Wednesday afternoon, accompanied by her mother.
“I finished with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes, at 2:02 p.m.,” said Shauna. “I had made my way through the whole finish line, so I had gotten my gear. My cell phone was in my bag, so my plan was to call Mark and set up a meeting place. He said they were going to stay put at the Hynes center, so I was to make my way around the block, past all the barricades and security they had to get back to them. That's when I heard the two bombs.”
Across from the explosions
Abby described what she and her father and sister saw.
“We were sitting on a platform thing,” related Abby, “and we heard the first one — we didn't see it. My dad was like, 'Whoa, what's that?' Then, on the other side of the street, the second one went off, and we saw that one, because it was across from us, on the other side. You could feel the earth shake. Runners and everybody were running away, turned around, running from the second one. We saw their scared faces. It was like a movie, when the terrorists attack. I was afraid we were going to die, because I was waiting for guys to come out with guns to shoot everyone. People were freaking out.
“We were screaming and crying,” added Abby, a sixth grader at John Fuller Elementary School, where her sister Molly is a fourth grader. “My dad said we couldn't go, because we had to wait for mom.”
“There was still phone service at that point after the bombs,” said Shauna. “I called Mark, so he knew I was OK. The last contact I had with Mark and the girls was hearing my girls screaming. That was the last full contact I had with them for a full three hours.
“They shut down 15 blocks,” she added, “so I was on one side of the city on Boylston Street, being pushed further away from them, and they were on the other side, but there was no way to communicate when the cell phone service was shut down.”
All of the MBTA trains were also shut down, except for the Orange line, the one that the Ross family had used to get from their parked car in Wellington Circle to the race start for Shauna and to Boylston Street for the race finish for Mark, Abby and Molly.
The three took the train back to their car. Shauna at first was not as lucky.
“I wandered the city streets alone for three hours in my running clothes with no food and no money, freezing,” said Shauna.
They were unable to make direct calls to one another, but through the help of friend Corey LeBuff in North Conway, they eventually were able to communicate.
“He called me to see if I was safe, and I asked him to call Mark, and that was how we were able to get messages through, back and forth,” said Shauna. “At about 6 p.m., I was able to get a call through to Mark. He told me to try and get a cab to get to Wellington. I happened upon the Orange line, and I remembered that I had put $10 in my pocket that morning, so I was able to get on the train. So,” she concluded, “the lucky thing is that Mark had decided at the last minute to get off at that stop, which put them on the other side of the street from the bomb, versus our original plan. And, the second thing, was that I just happened upon the still-working Orange line.”
They were soon reunited at Wellington Circle for the ride home. All were safe, unlike the hundreds who were injured — some with ghastly wounds and amputations — caused by the shrapnel, pressure cooker bombs. Three perished.
Abby gave thanks to her dad.
“He was so calm.”
Added Shauna, “He kept the girls close together. He was in a quandary — whether to wait for me or to get the kids out of the city. What he didn't know after our last cell contact is they I was getting pushed away [from them], to the south.”
The terror is hard to get over.
“There was such panic and chaos,” she added. “It was horrible.”
Still, the signs of compassion shown by runners and spectators alike for the fallen and the actions of first responders stick with her.
“Before the explosions,” she said, “along the race route, I had never seen so many police officers in my life. Then it was amazing to see them switch gears and into disaster mode.”
Originally from Methuen, Mass., Mark and Shauna grew up with Patriots Day.
“It's a day of celebration in Boston,” she said, “when you start the day with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and then everyone shifts over to watching the marathon. As you run, you can hear the radios on, broadcasting the game. You smell the burgers that everyone is cooking along the route. It's just such a special day of celebration. The weather was great, and it was just such a wonderful day. And then this.”
Shauna said she would not do a third Boston Marathon, but it's not because of the attacks. “This was my fourth overall marathon and my second straight Boston Marathon — I did it last year, but my time was not good because it was so hot. That's why I wanted to come back and do it again. Now that I've done it, I want to mix it up and do other marathons. I started my first when I was 38, and I want to keep on doing one every year in my 40s.”
She said the accomplishment of completing a marathon is significant, but it pales compared to what happened Monday.
“I am sad and angry for the city of Boston,” said Shauna. “But I hope the citizens won't let it ruin their traditions, and I am sure that the race will go on next year. You've got to live on — you can't live in fear. You just can't.”